In 1765 at the age of 8, William Blake saw his first vision while walking on Peckham Rye. ‘A tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.’
In collaboration with the Blake Society and the Forestry Commission, I saved an oak sapling from the eroding margins of England and transplanted it to Peckham Rye to help contemplate Angels in an energetic urban location.
It struck me that Blake walked from Bond Street where he lived to Peckham at the age of 8. In 1765 Bond Street, was the edge of the city (it is now called the ‘West End’), and Peckham was a Surrey Village. He experienced an event of marginal rationality in the Rye. Today Peckham is home to a stimulating mix of different cultures, though it also suffers from significant economic exclusion. Its exciting and turbulent character couldn’t be more different to Poundbury for instance.
This tree overlayed an additional margin onto the site, in the hope that such overlap might allow the connection between different types of perception.
“I have been very near the Gates of Death & have returned very weak & an Old Man feeble & tottering, but not in Spirit & Life, not in The Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever. In that I am stronger & stronger as this Foolish Body decays.”
Letter to George Cumberland, April 12, 1827.
Replanting tree from edge of England at site where Blake saw angels in an oak tree
This marginal act saved the tree, but only just; it died back completely. Yet when last checked there was new growth.